Old Pixkerija doors make it to maltabiennale.art

Poetics of an Archive pavilion seeks the alterations they undergo with the salt water as a dialogue with the sea is initiated.
Photos: Lisa Attard

Eighteen doors from the fish market in the Grand Harbour, which will soon be refashioned into a luxury hotel, have been salvaged and transformed into an art installation for the Franco-German Pavilion at the first maltabiennale.art.

The idea is that, in the course of the biennial, they will be altered through the processes that salt and seawater will impose on them, explained curator Andrew Borg Wirth.

Apart from the doors from the Pixkerija, the installation also features domestic copper basins, which will also undergo transformation by the surrounding sea.

The pavilion at Fort St Elmo in Valletta, in fact, initiates a dialogue with the sea, “exploring organic processes motivated by human activity and is fascinated by layers of material and cultural transformation,” Borg Wirth said.

Entitled Poetics of an Archive, it is conceived and produced by the embassies of France and Germany in Malta, using only found objects from extended research in Malta within the installation by visual and performing artist Mariana Hahn.

Hahn, who lives and works between Paris and Berlin, borrows from the natural processes of patina, sediment, algae, mould and rust to investigate the sea as an archive.

“The pavilion seeks to use art as a mediator for larger conversations on the ocean. It symbolically bridges the gap between three nations to encompass the potential the sea has to connect us, using artistic practice to speculate on the diachronic power of language, culture and identity,” Borg Wirth continued.

“It understands the sea as the ultimate medium by which each of these phenomena are negotiated and altered… It takes things from one place and deposits them in another, in the same spirit of the oceans, from which its ethos is derived.”

Borg Wirth is also an architect with an interdisciplinary practice interrogating political themes through collaborative projects with artists, collectives, architects and organisations.

The pavilion, he said, also establishes a “new, democratic, post-institutional understanding of the archive and archival processes”, which challenges traditional notions of conservation, looking to natural behaviours for their ability not only to contain information but also transmit it through invisible vehicles.

In his view, the archive does not remain a phenomenon of collection but rather of transmission; one that stimulates more exchange and complexity, generating whole identities that are nuanced, moving, changing. In this way, the salt in the artworks is seen as an archiving material.

The sea is an archive of stories, which are entombed by its loud whisper, Borg Wirth said.

In parallel with the installation is a dance film, Les Uns, À l’ancre des nénuphars, by choreographer and dancer Simon Riccardi-Zani, in collaboration with director James Vernon.

Poetics of an Archive has been conceived in close collaboration with the International Panel for Ocean Sustainability within the organising committee of the United Nations Ocean Conference to be hosted by France and Costa Rica in Nice in June 2025.

In March, in fact, a series of events took place to establish this larger conversation on the ocean, linking art, science and philanthropy.

The pavilion is being presented under the patronage of Ambassador of France in Malta Agnes Von der Mühll, and Tanja Beyer, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Malta.

This project has been made possible through the French-German Cultural Fund, collaboratively administered by Goethe Institut and Institut Français.

The maltabiennale.art is on until May 31.

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